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MONUMENT VALLEY:
Getting there is half the fun! (uncut)
by Douglas Chasar
There I was. Alone. My wife had left me. I didn't know what to do with myself... Well, she'd be back next week returning from a visit with family and friends in Ohio. But I was faced with how to spend the weekend without her. I thought to myself, What can I do? Then answered back, What can't I do? The situation is quite fantastic for a married man. No wife, no kids, no work. I had virtually no responsibility aside from feeding the dog and letting him out once or twice during the day.

I had one day to do everything or nothing as I saw fit. I could sit in my recliner, watch TV and swill beer all day, but I was feeling more ambitious than that. I could partition my computer's hard drive and optimize its performance and stability, but what kind of geek am I? Or I could take care of all the honey-do's around the house: prune the trees, fix the shower door, re-seal the deck, organize the garage, ad absurdem.

To hell with all that! I'm going for a ride.

The big question then is where to go. I basically have four choices: north, south, east or west. I have about 16 hours of time to kill so I'm looking at an eight-hour trip one way which gives me a 400 mile radius. Inspecting my handy road atlas, I find that to the west, I can hit the Pacific Coast or Vegas. I'm planing a trip to the coast in the spring and I don't have any money to blow in Vegas. I'll be heading south next month and don't want to spoil the surprise. My wife has wanted to take a trip to New Mexico for several months now, so I'll wait for her return to do that one. The final option literally sends a shiver up my spine. North. Into pine country and the higher elevations.

I've been Flagstaff and Prescott countless times. I was just in Sedona last week and a week before that we rode along the Mogollion Rim between Payson and Show Low. I didn't want to do a typical ride though. I wanted to test the limits of my endurance within the 16 hour time frame. I wanted to take a trip that would leave a lasting memory, like my trip to the Chiracaua National Park last year, and I could think of one location that fit the profile. Monument Valley.

I remember suggesting a road trip to Monument Valley during one of Rumble's editorial meetings and being warned that it's quite a long ride. So the challenge was in! According to calculations based on information in my road atlas, a one-way trip to Monument Valley would be about five and a half hours. Piece of cake, I thought. I checked the weather on the Internet and decided the afternoon shouldn't be too cold, though the nighttime low would be. Partly cloudy skies were called which at the time suggested photographic character. I made a mental list of what I would need to bring and planned the trip for the next day.

Knowing I would be heading through Flagstaff, I made sure to pack my cold weather riding gear (which in retrospect is quite sparse since I live in Arizona). I also packed sunscreen having been burned riding in 50 degree weather. A few other odds and ends and I was ready to go.

I set off in the morning under a silvery sky, the sun gleaming through a thin layer of cirrus clouds. The air was warm enough that I hardly needed a leather coat over my t-shirt. I knew this would change as I reached the higher elevations, but I would worry about that when the time came. I raced up the incline between Black Canyon City and the Sunset Point rest area at a modest 90mph. Winding my way up, weaving back and fourth between lanes of slower traffic, I realized I would never be able to get away with this if Wendy were on the back. For one, I would never ride so recklessly with my wife as a passenger, and second, fighting the agony of the fingernails digging into my ribs would take too much concentration from maneuvering.

Needless to say I made very good time from Phoenix to Flagstaff. It was cold, but not so cold that I was forced add a sweatshirt and leather chaps before I stopped for gas and a brief perusal of my map. I nursed a cup of black coffee and soaked up the sun making its way through the spotty cloud cover before continuing.

There's a lot of scenery to enjoy both from Phoenix to Flagstaff and from Flagstaff to Monument Valley. Though the Coconino National Forest consists predominantly of evergreen pine trees, there were enough deciduous species to add some autumn color. After leaving the forest, you enter the Painted Desert where every mile is a post card. While enjoying the beauty of red rock boulder fields, low rolling dunes of red and white sand, open expanses of grass dotted with cattle, horses and donkeys, and rock formations etched by years and years of water and wind erosion, it's difficult to concentrate on the road.

Luckily, north of Flagstaff, the highway was relatively empty aside from the occasional driver who, unlike drivers along I-17, had the courtesy to yield the left lane allowing me to pass. For the better part of the ride I leaned back, opened the throttle and split my face with a grin that I doubt any but another rider would quite understand.

At times, the wind was chill enough to bite through any warmth I soaked up from the sun despite my sweatshirt and leather, so I found myself stopping every now and again to warm up as the clouds dissipated. I was surprised that after only a few moments in the sun I would begin to actually feel hot, so I would jump on my bike and hit the open road...and in seconds I would be cold again.

For argument's sake, I consider myself a whimp when it comes to riding in the cold. I know there are people in Minnesota who ride bare chested through the snow, but I'm a native Phoenician and I chill easy. I reviewed a chart not too long ago illustrating wind chill while riding and found that 70mph at 40 degrees Fahrenheit feels like about five below. I'll take 120 degree heat in the shade any day.

After the pre-determined five and a half hours, I made it to Kayenta and then into Monument Valley. At sight of the first butte, I stopped and snapped a picture. Then I stopped at the next. I found a better angle of the first butte and snapped another. As I rode through the valley I couldn't help but feel that a movie camera would be better as the motion adds depth and perspective that's difficult to capture in a still image. I then realized no viewfinder could do the landscape justice. To the dismay of one or two other drivers, I paid little attention to the road as the vistas rolled passed. The clouds had parted leaving the sun to spread its warmth across my back. I ignored the occasional sign until one caught my attention. Apparently I had entered Utah. I wasn't wearing a helmet and was unsure if Utah had a helmet law, but continued without too much worry.

I eventually came to the road leading to the visitor center. When I arrived at the gate I was embarrassed that I didn't have the cash to pay the entrance fee, so I never made it into the park itself, therefore, I never saw the famous Mitten Buttes and only took pictures outside the park. I then found out the road throughout the park is unpaved, so I shrugged my shoulders thinking to myself, It's the journey and not the destination after all, right?

In a round trip like this, however, the journey is only half over.

Of course the return trip is not as visually stimulating. I find there's nothing like traveling a road you've never been on. The sense is a keen mix of anticipation and excitement. There will always be something new to see or some new challenge to overcome, but you never know exactly what it will be, so you have only your wits to prepare you. But then situations change. And in my case, the cloud cover reappeared and persisted through most of the trip. I was already cold with the sun on my back. Without the sun I was determinedly chilled. I had some choices. I could find a place to stay for the night, pull off the road every now and again to huddle over my engine for warmth, or I could make for the lower elevations as quick as possible. I didn't want to prolong the discomfort, so like removing a band-aid, I chose the quick but painful option.

My solution to one problem lead to another. Fuel efficiency. While riding at a reasonable pace, I can get pretty good mileage out of my bike. However, at a near constant 100mph I'm burning up more gas than I am burning up road. Free time, high speed and the cold prompted me to think about the point separating wind chill and atmospheric friction; the phenomena that produces shooting stars. I concluded the difference is the point between passing through air molecules and colliding with them; like lowering your hand into a pool of water or slapping the surface. I did have a lot of time to think, after all and I wanted to keep my mind off the numbness spreading from my fingertips and toes. Fuel efficiency became a real problem though, as the rate I was traveling forced me to rely on my reserve between every fill-up.

The cloud cover broke just as the sun crept behind the horizon, but this did nothing to warm me. As I entered Flagstaff from the north, I saw the snow capped San Francisco Peaks driving the chill deeper. I sped along I-40 and inadvertently missed the last gas exit after I was forced to switch to my reserve tank earlier than I had anticipated. Despite my perceived problems, I admired the scenery as the last rays of the sun peeked over the horizon reflecting golden light over the evergreen treetops. My moment of awe was broken by the sign reading, "Next Services, 29 miles." I had already passed the exit. More than one expletive crossed my mind. Rational thought kicked in...sort of. I didn't want to turn back, but I would rather ride slowly for the next several miles than hurry along and end up pushing my bike to the next station. I eased off the throttle and dropped down to a much more conservative speed knowing it would give me better mileage. I normally stop at the Camp Verde exit to buy gas and hadanticipated the fuel I would need to get there. It was too close to feel confident. My teeth clenched from more than the cold.

Fewer than five miles from the Camp Verde exit I saw the light of a service station and immediately decided to pull off I-17. The pumps didn't take ATM cards, and I only had a hand full of change, but it would be enough. I then found out if I hadn't stopped at the first station I saw, I never would have made it to Camp Verde on less than one tenth of a gallon left in my reserve. Like I said, too close.

Though I had dropped out of Flagstaff, the night air was cold and the chill that seeped in through the clouded sky did not go away. With a full tank of gas, though, I again raced to lower elevations. Winding the curves down to Black Canyon City as fast as I dared, I changed my mind when a thoughtless driver misjudged his own ability to navigate the road, swerving into my lane, nearly overcorrecting and losing control. Suddenly the cold didn't seem so bad. The adrenaline shot was enough to bring a bead of sweat to my brow, so I eased up on the throttle and let all the other drivers pass as I closed the distance home.

I spent a total of 11 hours in the saddle. I was chilled for all but three. Once in my oven-like garage, the cold was nothing more than a memory and I thought, That wasn't too bad. I still figured I had had enough riding for at least a week until I awoke to the rumble of my neighbors Harley early the next morning. I smiled to myself and couldn't help but think, I wonder where he's going? I wouldn't mind another ride.

Ride safe, ride often...hell, just ride! - dpc



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